Lobo linemen need to get tougher and more physical

To state the painfully obvious, the New Mexico Lobos lost the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a 35-3 loss at the Air Force last Saturday.


And they own it.

Bryce Santana, defensive lineman, and CJ James, offensive lineman wear the same jersey number (51). On Tuesday, they were of the same opinion about what happened at the Air Force Academy.

“They knocked us off the ball and did whatever they wanted,” said Santana, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound sophomore from Los Lunas, who was making his second career start against the Falcons.

James, a 6-4, 290-pound sophomore from Springfield, Massachusetts, didn’t dismiss the question either.

“[The Air Force defense]dominated the line of scrimmage,” he said.

On Saturday after the game, UNM head coach Danny Gonzales said the Falcons “outperformed us physically.”

But Santana and James said it was worse from their point of view.

“We really pushed ourselves as a team,” said Santana.

“They wanted it more,” James said.

So the good side – sort of: Even if you can’t get more physical, you can get tougher.

And you can want it even more.

“We just have to come here every day and try to get tougher,” Santana said. “We have more success that way.”

The Lobos, James said, need to use the Air Force game “as a chip on our shoulders.”

Next up for UNM (2-8, 0-6 Mountain West Conference, losers in seven straight games) is San Diego State (6-4, 4-2), who have won four of their last five. The Aztecs, the visiting team, are listed as 14½-point favorites.

With just two games left, the Lobos, especially underclassmen like James and Santana, could easily pack up and start thinking about next year.

The next year, they said, has already begun.

“If we’re going to achieve those goals in the future, we need to set[those goals]now,” James said. “We have to come here every day and do our best.”

Santana, who played on the Los Lunas runners-up teams as a junior and senior, is reluctant to adjust to losing.

“We have to make sure we get the win at the end of the season, an ending on a high note,” he said. “And if we do that, it will allow us to build on a good season (2023) in the off-season.”

THE OC, SEASON IV: Lobos coach Danny Gonzales on Tuesday did not rule out interim offensive coordinator Heath Ridenour as a candidate for the spot that became vacant with the Oct. 9 sacking of OC Derek Warehime. However, Gonzales said, “Most likely, we’re going to have (in 2023) an offensive coordinator who’s not here (right now).”

Warehime first became offensive coordinator when Gonzales hired him in January 2020. During his 2½ years and 25 games at the position, the Lobos averaged 16.7 points per game. In the four games since Warehime left, the average is 7.75.

Gonzales said of Ridenour, who is also the UNM’s quarterbacks coach, “I think Heath did a really good job of coping with what he’s done. I think Heath is a really good football coach and he’s done a good job with the quarterbacks.”

Gonzales said he’s had many contacts with coaches interested in the job since Warehime’s sacking.

A-ROD: Lobo’s punter Aaron Rodriguez has made the Ray Guy Awards’ weekly “Ray’s 8” for the third time this season after averaging 45 yards for six punts in the Air Force.

Only one of the six was returned, giving Rodriguez a 43.8 net average.

FORMER LOBO DIES: Gonzales said Jeffrey Blake, a linebacker who was briefly in the program last year, recently died in Georgia.

Blake had joined UNM from San Diego State, where he played for head coach Rocky Long, now the Lobos’ defensive coordinator, and for Gonzales, who was the Aztecs’ D coordinator at the time.